Monthly Archives: September 2011

Theraputic Gaming

I ran across an article today that talked about a company seeking approval from the Food & Drug Administration for a video game to treat Schizophrenia.  The game they’re attempting to develop will focus on improving patients’  memory & attention, thereby making them better able to function outside of a hospital (the game is not intended to treat the hallucinations or delusions that often accompany this disorder, which typically require medication).  The company, Brain Plasticity Inc., plan to begin their study next year by testing how 150 patients respond to their variety of mental exercises.  Clearly people believe this project to show promise, because not only did the company receive $3 million from the FDA, but a further $2 million from the Department of Defense for research on using the same technology to help war veterans with brain trauma.

It’s a very interesting idea to have people play video games to improve cognitive skills.  But if you stop & think about it, it’s not that strange.  Games such as Brain Age claimed to train your brain & improve your thinking abilities by playing its mini-games a few times a day.  And a lot of games feature sequences that challenge your reaction times.  What about quick-time events?  Or puzzles games, which challenge you to think logically?  If doing crossword puzzles can help stave off Alzheimer’s, why can’t Ilomilo do the same?

The article also mentioned the success of a previous video game therapy known as “Virtual Iraq.”  Virtual Iraq is a virtual reality program developed by Dr. Albert Rizzo, Associate Director for Medical Virtual Reality at USC’s Institute for Creative Technologies.  It’s goal is to help Iraq veterans overcome Post Traumatic Stress Disorder by immersing them in a virtual simulation of the events that happened to them.

For those unfamiliar with the condition, PTSD is an anxiety disorder caused by an extremely traumatic incident, such as war, that a person can continue to relive at any time.  Often these intense flashbacks are triggered by seemingly harmless things, such as a sound or smell that reminds them of the incident.  These flashbacks are so intense that the person believes they are actually reliving that moment, creating extreme distress & interfering with the quality of their lives.

Typically, PTSD is treated with Exposure Therapy.  As the name implies, it works by continually exposing a client to a stressful object or situation until they no longer react to it.  By confronting their fear in a safe environment, the goal is for the client to become desensitized to it.

Virtual Iraq follows the same idea.  Created from a modded version of Full Spectrum Warrior, clients are placed in a special room to give a completely immersive experience.  VR goggles cover their eyes, headphones provide the sound, they often carry a rifle (prop of course) as most active military personnel do, & the room is filled with subwoofers to provide vibrations.  They can even pump certain smells into the room.  Everything is based around making the experience as real as possible.  But the most effective aspect is that the game allows for the scenario to match that of the events that caused the PTSD in the first place.  It’s all about tailoring.  And all the while the therapist is engaging in talk therapy with the client, having them express what they see & feel.  Without this talking aspect, it’s unlikely the project would be more than just an expensive gimmick.  Talking helps the client come to terms with what happened.  Dr. Rizzo also points out that there is no combat involved.  The gun clients are given is to make the experience as authentic as possible.  It’s important that the session isn’t about trying to prevent the event, but accept it.

Started in 2004, Virtual Iraq has seen tremendous success with clients.  Of those that complete the program, 80% of clients see a complete elimination of their symptoms in six weeks.  Currently they’re working on a way to adapt the program for Afghanistan veterans.

As a counselor in training, this news excites me very much.  It opens up so many possibilities.  Obviously this approach won’t work with every disorder or situation.  I’m pretty sure it would be more than a little unethical to subject a rape victim to reliving their assault so vividly.  And none of this will replace regular therapy.  But psychologists should use all tools at their disposal to help their clients.  And for a medium that brags about being both immersive & interactive, video games seem like the perfect source for these unique answers.  It may even improve the success rate of therapy.  I mean, how many of us would love to say, “My doctor ordered me to play video games”?  Taking pills is no fun, but gaming is.

So who knows, maybe some time in the future we’ll see people with mild mental retardation playing the Sims to learn basic living skills.  Or stroke victims playing Trauma Center to improve lost motor skills.  As game technology continues to grow, so do the possibilities.

– GamerDame

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First Impressions: Assassin’s Creed

I always love a game that starts with a disclaimer or warning.  My personal favorite is Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, where it warns about the game psychologically profiling you to create your own nightmare.  Assassin’s Creed shows a similar disclaimer, stating that the game is based on historical information & was made by people of different cultures, races, etc.  I think this was an effort to keep people from saying the developers were biased against the different factions appearing.

Assassin’s Creed is one of those games I never got around to playing even though it sounded pretty interesting.  I think I just wasn’t interested enough to fork out full price for something I wasn’t sure I was going to like.  But thanks to game renting, I can finally check it out.

I haven’t played much of the game yet, just getting used to it, but I already have a lot of questions.  For instance, after Altair gets demoted, why does he lose all of his skills?  His weapons I get, but how did they take abilities away?  Did the knife they stabbed him with have some kind of poison that made him stupider or something?  Why does Altair speak with an American accent when everyone else has a Middle Eastern one?  I supposed you could argue it’s because it’s Desmond reliving memories, but I’m pretty sure Ezio’s voice doesn’t sound that way.  And why do guards attack me for riding my horse too fast?  I guess it’s like one LP’er said, “He’s breaking the speed limit!  Cut him!”

Aside from these issues that I doubt I’ll ever get an answer to, I have enjoyed what little I’ve played so far.  I expected the free-running to be more complicated than it actually was.  Switching between passive & aggressive actions does take a bit of getting used to.  I also like that as I help citizens, I gain allies in the city who help me escape the Templars.  I haven’t gotten to assassinate anyone yet, but my mob of vigilantes did toss some Templars around after I stopped them from harassing some lady.

With my long “weekend” coming up I should be able to finish AC within the next week.

– GamerDame

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